Adley Rutschman hit .304 with a .581 hitting percentage against four-seam fastballs this season, and learning to deal with the radiators in the zone played a big part in that success. Prior to being drafted first overall by the Baltimore Orioles in 2019 out of Oregon State University, the 24-year-old wide receiver wasn’t used to being attacked with high offers. That changed when he entered professional ball. As a result, Rutschman found himself having to make mental and mechanical adjustments as a hitter, and he did so with aplomb. The hitting catcher is coming off a rookie season in which he recorded a 133 wRC+ with 49 extra hits in 470 plate appearances.
Rutschman discussed his approach to the zone when the Orioles visited Fenway Park in late September.
On adapting to professional launchers:
“Comparing the throwing styles of college ball versus pro ball, one of the biggest changes I’ve seen is guys throwing in the zone. Another is that, analytically, teams take more account of what guys do well and work from those strengths. In college, I feel like how teams pitch depends a lot on the program.
“Here, if the guys have a good four-seam fastball, they usually run into the zone. If they have a good two-seam fastball, they attack you horizontally. It was a big adjustment, learning to cover up and down instead of just going in and out. It’s not that the guys here never go back and forth. They will, so there is more variation.
“I would say [the biggest adjustment] was learning to cover the treble. Specifically, he was learning to hit a high pitch that is in the strike zone. In college, it was usually further out, where you could have that deep barrel path and put the ball in left-center.
On how to access an elevated fastball:
“First, it’s about finding where the top of the zone is with your eyes – figuring out what’s a strike and what’s not. From there, it’s your bald path. mice – understanding how your body works so you can get to that part of the zone effectively.Often off the tee, guys will work up and down to figure out how as an individual they can get to these pitches. It’s something the guys have to figure out for themselves.
“In the acute terrain, you have to get on the plane earlier. If you are too high, it is more difficult to reach them. Ideally, I flatten faster, because you have less time. The perceived speed at the top of the zone will always be higher than it is at the bottom, so you need to make up that time. With the bottom of the area, you can let it deepen a bit. You can let the bat hang around a little longer, since it’s easier to go the other way.
On training and the challenges of a long season:
“Our hitting coaches are doing a great job. It is very dependent on the person. Every guy has different drills they do in their prep work before they start hitting live. I like harder things, like [velocity training and mix BP], especially during the season. Even if my swing doesn’t feel quite right, or my batting path doesn’t feel quite right, I still want to be able to fight and compete at home plate on any given day. I want to see throws – recognize throws – and be able to put the ball into play with force.
“A lot of struggles come with playing every day. There will be days when you show up on the court and your swing will feel one way – you might be in a good place – but the next day your swing will be completely different. You feel like your hands are in a different place, or your body is in a different place, even though you land in the same place, you basically do everything the same way. You have to find a way to do little criticisms that make you feel good that day. And even if you don’t feel good, you have to find the mental capacity to make yourself feel like you can compete. When it comes to hitting, i would say this is the biggest win you can get day to day when playing so many games.